'Rational Thought', an Oxymoron?

Dallas, August 5, 1999


Sharing one's thoughts with another can be difficult, particularly if the thoughts deal with the notion of thought. These difficulties crop up time and again in my field of endeavor, which is to put together a self-education package for youth, to alert them to eccentricities in the western ways of perception and inquiry which are making life difficult for them, ... and for everybody.

It is a fairly trivial observation that our 'thought' is not constrained to the 'rational' in the sense of logic and causality, even though these have been almost deified in our culture, and we pay a premium for them, both within education and in business and social regulatory systems (government, law etc.). If our 'thought' is bigger than our 'rationality', ... should we not be concerned, when sharing our thoughts, as to the possible effects of 'drop out' when rational discussion is used as medium of transfer?

I say this on the day after some hoped-for thought-sharing associations have come to the edge of the abyss, ... in fact, other participants in this particular dialogue would say that they have gone over the abyss. They may be more correct, in view of the last words from my email dialogueing co-respondent, Ken, a professor in physiology whose models I am very interested in, ... which are still 'ringing in my ears'; ...

............. "It is too bad you can't apply your words to themselves, you might see the contradiction between what you profess to be doing and what you are doing."

Now, since I am 'into' understanding systemic dysfunction, and claim to be able to recognize it when I come across it, ... I have no problem with the notion of someone else being able to detect it and perhaps having a sharper 'detector' than myself. But I do have a problem with the notion that 'my words' are 'doing' something, ... that there is a causal relation between spoken words and system states. I am not a big fan of leaning heavily on causal models, and when I do use them, I use them in the sense of tangible actions' causing other 'tangible actions' and states, ... rather than in the sense of 'words' CAUSING 'tangible actions' and states (words may, however, 'induce' tangible actions and systems states). Is this nitpicking Ken's 'intended' sense?

Do 'inflammatory words' 'cause' 'flames' or do they just trigger or induce spontaneous combustion, or are they the same thing? What are 'inflammatory words', anyhow?

Once again, I hit this damned narrowness of the notion of causality, in its being 'one-way', ... from 'cause' TO 'effect'. How about those situations where we say that someone is in the state of 'a bomb waiting to go off', ... and where a fly's innocent landing on it will trigger detonation? How about the mix of chemicals where the addition of one more, ... a normally innocuous chemical, ... will trigger an explosion?

Sure, we can say that 'such-and-such' CAUSED the explosion but that narrow view certainly doesn't constitute an 'understanding' of the situation.

This narrow view of causality seems oblivious to certain ordered criticalities which are resident on the 'object' end of the subject-object encounter, and which render the same subject action sometimes innocuous, sometimes 'inflammatory'. What is going on?

In practical terms, in the particular case of Ken and I, ... it seems as if Ken takes the position that the object side (container side) of the subject-object interaction (content-container interaction) can be taken to be a (non-relativistic) reference base for inquiry into the system. This is in fact a 'rational' view, in the logical-causal sense of the term 'rational', the common connotion of rational. So if we say that 'the fly' CAUSED the bomb to go off, and my words CAUSED such and such, we are being consistent with the rational model.

What's missing in this picture?

What may come to mind here is the question of 'intent'. If my words were inflammatory, does this not imply 'intent'. Can words be 'inflammatory' in their own right? Perhaps that interpretation depends on the relationship between the two parties, ... i.e. perhaps there is a subject-object co-dependency' here and perhaps such things do not happen 'causally', ... in one direction, ... but 'co-evolutionarily' where both sides 'move' at the same time, ... like wind and flag?

Anyhow, when you get into complex systems, you have to start talking about thinking and this is difficult since talk is the precipitate of thought, and it requires a bit of a self-referential warp to deal with it. It's possible that my comments, in the exchange immediately prior to Ken's above response, could be seen to be 'inflammatory', ... you be the judge;

Ken: I'm afraid that I am unable to follow long involved posts in language I can't understand. Sorry, ...Ken.

Emile: ...no need to be sorry, ... language does funny things to us.

... as the uncertainty principle shows, ... 'things' ... rather than being 'in their own right', are emergent features of a continuing, evolving space-time container, and when we make 'rational' models based on things (when we manipulate 'things' with exclusionary logic), we discard the interference pattern information which relates 'things' to the container and to each other.

... the same is true in the domain of language, ... 'words' ... are emergent features of a continuing, evolving space-time container, the experiential (his)story of our co-evolutionary interplay with our environmental container. In other words, 'words' are simply exposed 'tits' on the elastic, evolving iceberg of collective thought.

... rationality is when we play with our own tits. it's fun, but in our voyeur focus, we mustn't forget that we are immersed in a bigger containing story called 'life'.

... to search for the 'meaning' of life in terms of the difference between word-things; i.e. 'machines' and 'organisms', ... is a voyeur game in which we 'play with ourselves'.

... and as John Lennon said, ... "Life is something which happens to us while we're busy playing with ourselves." ... or was it, "...while we're busy making other plans."

... the 'big story' is the experiencing of immersed co-evolution with our containing environment. this is the story that brought 'rationality' to our voyeur screens. if we want to deepen our understanding of life, we must subordinate playing with ourselves to the deepening of our shared awareness of the common container within which we 'play' our language games.

... and to jointly build an image of our own common container, we must do as the jazz musicians, ... use our words to weave a web within which we can play together and learn and evolve.

my language, and jamie's, tends to be a weave which keeps container-imaging in a primacy over rational content. if we can't weave a container sufficiently robust to hold our collection of games, we move on, ... c'est la vie, ....Emile.

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Well, was my language 'inflammatory'?

If you deem that it was, ... does this mean that language can be 'inflammatory' in its own right? That would be like, ... er ... 'causal logic', ... right? But doesn't it often happen that the same action in the same (materially the same) situation gives different results? Even at the level of electrons, if you look at them when they pass through slits, their behavior differs from when you don't look at them. What is going on here? It seems as if there are some latent interference patterns which 'connect' things. Even if you look in on my above email comment as it goes out to be received by Ken, you will not be able to 'see' the interference pattern, ... the field of latencies which will bear on whether or not my remarks trigger an explosion, or whether they trigger a chuckle.

Guess what? I couldn't see that latent interference pattern either, and I was hoping for a chuckle.

Now, if you already decided that my remarks were innately 'inflammatory', then the whole issue of the connecting 'interference pattern' is discarded. This is Feynman's formulation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle; ... "no equipment can be built in any way to determine which of two alternatives was taken without destroying the interference pattern". If you say that my remark was innately inflammatory, then you have made the decision needed to stay within the causal model and the notion of an innate subject-object uncertainty due to some kind of quantum-connectedness (co-resonance) between myself and Ken goes out the window.

Did Ken himself have a choice of 'exploding' or 'chuckling'?

To answer this, one has to pre-specify which type of reasoning Ken chose to use. If he wanted to use 'rationality', and stay within the domain of logic and cause, he would have to make a judgement on 'alternatives' (binary, exclusionary choice) with respect to the 'sense' of my words, and the 'sense' of words has three levels, as Vygotsky points out; the literal 'meaning' of the words, ... the thought behind the words, ... and the 'intent' behind uttering the words. He would need to decide at all three levels.

On the other hand, if he wanted to use 'inclusionary reason' (bringing things into connection in the mind), he could let the meaning of my words 'float' and simply continue the dialogue to get more information to (bring into connection). In other words, he could use (inclusionary) reason to try to resolve the interference patterns which were set up between us and bypass the logical, causal route.

But the suggested use of this second, 'inclusionary' reasoning approach was the very topic of the discussion and Ken had already said, in an earlier portion of the dialogue;

"There seems to be a set of contradictory tendancies at work here. Namely the use of more and more words to try to deal with the failure of the words already used to mean anything. Is there a way out? I am not inclined to read on once someone complains about not understanding what has gone before. I dislike exercises in futility."

Here we can see two different 'topologies' of thought sharing, associated with the 'rational' or logical-causal and the inclusionary reasoning. In the former, it is necessary to make decisions about meaning on a linear basis, ... the path to understanding is chain-linked from 'left-to-right', and in fact, all logical-causal progressions can be portrayed by means of a logic tree drawn in one direction (e.g. from left to right). As Bart Kosko ('Fuzzy Thinking') says, if you imagine the logic tree as being constructed from pipes, and you tip the left side up and right side down and pour water into the top (left hand side) of the tree, the water will run straight through onto the ground. In the case of complex (nonlinear dynamical) systems, on the other hand, ... the pipes won't go straight but there will be circular conduits in there and leaks between the pipes, so that what you pour in may not come out for a long time, and you never know what you'll get from the particular outlet pipes, relative to the particular inputs.

Another way to think of the 'wordy' inclusionary way of reasoning and thought sharing is to think in terms of geological layering. We access our thoughts as if they were 'geological layers' according to psychologists (Schacter, Vygotsky etc.), simultaneously sampling many different experiences taken from our personal evolutionary history. Thus, it is also possible to present multiple different views of the same thought, and have the 'receiving' person try to visualize the thought by 'bringing the several 'related' presentations into connection in his mind'.

For those entrenched in the rational method, this turns out to be not very appealing for two reasons; (a) it is ambiguous and one must 'let go' of one's rationality in order to 'image' the thought,... and (b) once you have visualized the thought by this 'connective' method, you will be unable to articulate it because it is in the form of 'implicit' knowledge rather than 'explicit' knowledge. You will only be able to share it by the same, wordy and ambiguous method, hoping that the listener will be able to 'let go' of their rationality and 'image' it. In other words, if you start trading in 'implicit' knowledge, you are crossing a bridge and your old rationalist friends, may start looking at you a little queerly.

Ok, ... it is easy to see that many people like to stay in the domain of good old, steel-gate-clunking, explicit, logical-causal 'rationality'. In fact, in the formal, regulatory domains of the western culture, ... the rational approach is in a clear primacy.

So what's going on with this latent 'interference pattern' information which connects things together and why do we lose it when we stick with rational reasoning and 'explicit knowledge', while we can get to it using relational (inclusionary) reasoning and 'implicit knowledge'?

What is going on here, is the splitting apart of space-time in the rational method.

Rationality demands that you 'decide on alternatives' 'as you go along'. In fact, rationality forces this issue of 'as you go along' (linear time). This is how you 'build up' your explicit knowledge. If you went through your whole life without ever having to say anything explicit, you wouldn't need to invoke 'linear time'. At the very end, you could just smile like a child and say, ... 'I like it!', ... or, ... 'It sucks!'. 'Linear time' seems to be tied up with our method of reasoning and sharing of our knowledge.

Also, if you decide on 'what's right' and 'what's wrong' as you go along, you are implicitly a believer in the existence of 'absolute right' and 'absolute wrong' and in 'exclusionary logic'. Otherwise, you would have to allow for the possibility of causal agents which were both 'right and wrong' at the same time and you would have to wait around and track the 'evolution' of the thing (proposition or etc.), to get a better fix on its 'rightness' or 'wrongness'. Perhaps it might alternatively manifest dominance in 'rightness' then 'wrongness'. The proposition 'smoking is good for you' seems to be true in the 'short term' (it relieves anxiety and stabilizes weight), but not in the 'long term' (it can harm lungs, and then heart).

So the rational package bundles in 'absolute truth' and 'absolute falsehood' and precludes the notion that a thing can be both 'true' AND 'false' at the same time. And of course, if one does assume a 'yin/yang', 'true AND false' aspect to propositions and 'good AND bad' aspect to 'things', then 'truth' and 'goodness' become 'relative' notions which depend on 'time' and the 'evolution' of the system or proposition.

Here we come down to the crux of the issue. Rationality is a method of reasoning whose basic underpinnings (logic and cause) are outside of the context of time. For any rational transaction, such as my exchange with Ken, we can open up the space-time window in which it is immersed, ... perhaps to include Ken's childhood and mine, ... and see a whole lot of experienced 'causes' melding and flowing together which bear on the local 'cause' associated with the 'caused effect' of my words that Ken refers to. More than that, these 'experienced causes' give us the basis for interpreting the 'sense' of the remarks made in our dialogue and to project the result of continuing dialogue. Clearly, this causal 'projection', ... e.g. 'my life will be miserable if it includes continuing association with him', ... reaches back from the future to effect the choice of alternative 'senses' of the statements in the email dialogue.

So, not only do the words in the dialogue NOT have innate 'sense' in themselves, ... the speaker and listener are connected by an interference pattern which relates to their co-evolution with the environmental container, and it is this 'connecting' interference pattern which influences the choice of alternatives selected in building the left-to-right 'logic tree' in the rational method of reasoning.

In other words the rational method of reasoning, as it is practiced in humans, is not rational because to be rational, it must be out of the context of time. That is, it must be innately 'innocent' and avoid bringing implicit understanding (experiences of the past or imaginings of the future) to bear on the selection of alternatives. Such considerations must be restricted to the overall rational structure and not applied to basic operations.

As far as humans go, ... the notion of 'rationality' is no more than a self-deception, and a dysfunction-producing one. It is instead infused with non-rational inclusionary reasoning, but this infusion is denied, and this means that rational models, which the western culture puts into the primacy over relational (inclusionary) models are a scam. The hidden and denied use of inclusionary reason in selecting alternatives (i.e. the absence of 'innocence') in human 'rationality' gives rise to the weaselly 'forked tongue' of the western white man, ... and to the fact that "everybody knows" that 'the ship is leaking' and 'the captains are lying', as Leonard Cohen's lyrics say.

The way out of this dysfunction-producing dilemma is to admit that 'rationality' is an abstraction accessible only to the innately 'innocent', ... 'digital organisms' may perhaps qualify (to go deeper into oxymoronery), but certainly not people as we know them. And to follow through by rehabilitating the primacy of the relational (inclusionary) over the rational (exclusionary).

This was my mission in the email dialogue which I cited from above. However, Ken insisted that I present my case on the superiority of the 'relational-over-rational' versus the 'rational-over-relational' using the rational approach. The problem was, the 'relational' is the container for the rational and it is difficult to fit the container into an item of its own contents, ... both topologically and practically, ... and besides, ... we seemed unable to attain the state of innocence required by the rational method.

Switching polarities, from rational-over-relational to relational-over-rational involves a shift in dependency on the 'innocence' demanded by rule-based, imposed-order systems designs, to a dependency on 'trust' demanded by respect-based, induced-order systems designs. We have three millenia of data relative to the achievability of the needed state of 'innocence' for putting rational reasoning in the primacy. We also have a lot of data relative to the achievability of the needed state of 'trust' for putting relational (inclusionary) reasoning in the primacy, even though this regulatory approach has had second billing in our culture. What we have here, in juxtaposing the two regulatory approaches, is not a peer-to-peer horserace, however, since if we put the relational in the primacy, we can use rational rules at the same time, since the rational is a special case of the relational (when we ignore interference effects). On the other hand, when we put the rational in the primacy, the relational is pre-empted, since the rational derives from special case, exclusionary logic.

The large-scale order achievable with rational, imposed-rule, regulatory frameworks is seen to have underpinned the rise to world domination of the western culture. The downside of this rationally-achieved order is the homogeneity which it imposes on the individual and minority groupings, and the deceit and/or self-deception which goes on with impunity in the selection of 'logical' alternatives. Cultures which have embraced the relational, induced-order, regulatory frameworks in which rational rules are subordinated, such as the cultures of the indigenous peoples of North America, have been seen, by western history books, as troubled by tribal strife, and the inability to induce order on a broad scale. What can be achieved by the relational approach in modern times and with modern technologies in support of the relational (e.g. the Internet), however, is yet to be determined.

As Taiaiake Alfred observes in 'Peace, Power, Righteousness', ... the Kaienerokowa ('the great law of peace'), a process for sustaining peace amongst the six (Iroquois) nations of the Rotinohshonni, 'people of the long house', ... and used as a reference by the founding fathers of the United States, ... embodies a powerful message, not for the preservation of tradition, but for the 'living of tradition'. The problem which the world is now experiencing, under the dominance of the western rational culture, emanates from the need, in 'preserving tradition' to decide 'which tradition' will be preserved and protected by rule of law. Having to choose amongst alternatives, as this rational regulatory approach demands, leads once again to the issues of 'innocence' and time. The Christian missionaries clearly saw the choice of rules in terms of absolute 'good' and 'evil' and out of the context of evolving space-time; i.e. out of the context of the inducing of harmony over the generations. The 'innocence' which they and the western religions brought to deciding on alternatives in the regulatory structure looked more like a materialist philosophical stake-in-the-ground to the aboriginals, ... as it looks to many non-western cultures today.

Rationalist regulation has removed 'time' and relational interference input from societal 'ordering' process, ... it has pre-empted a tuning-in to the harmonic flow of the generations. Perhaps it's 'time' to rehabilitate the relational traditions espoused by our primitive ancestors, ... or would this be a turn towards the barbaric and anarchic?

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"You shall be a good person, and , you shall be kind to all of the people, not differentiating among them, the people who are wealthy, and the poor ones, and the good natured ones, and the evil ones who sin readily; all of them you shall treat kindly, and you shall not differentiate among them. As to your own fireside, never consider only yourself, you must always remember them, the old people, and the younger people, and the children, and those still in the earth, yet unborn, and always you will take into account everyone's well-being, that of the on-going families, so that they may continue to survive, your grandchildren. (from the Kaienerokowa)

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